LGBTQ workers earn about 90 cents for every dollar U.S. workers make on average, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation.
The study, published in January, examined median weekly wages for full-time workers employed in the public and private sectors. It did not include those who are working part time, self-employed or in informal jobs.
“Given that LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to be unemployed and part-time employed, if we were to compare the wage gap for all adults, not just full-time workers, it would likely be much larger than what we see here,” said Shoshana Goldberg, director of public education and research at the HRC Foundation.
LGBTQ people of color earn even less compared with overall average earnings. Native American (70 cents on the average dollar) and Black (80 cents on the average dollar) individuals earn the least among LGBTQ workers by race. Latinx workers earn about 90 cents and white workers earn about 97 cents for every dollar of average earnings. Asian and Pacific Islander workers earn about the same as the average.
Transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer and two-spirit workers earn significantly less the average worker, the report found. LGBTQ women of color and transgender people of all races experience the widest wage disparities among marginalized identities in the U.S.
“We not only uncovered evidence that LGBTQ+ adults are not receiving equal pay for equal work but also that the most vulnerable in our community, including women and nonbinary people; transgender men and women; and [Black, Indigenous, and other people of color] LGBTQ+ workers are the most likely to be impacted,” Goldberg said.
Impact of Wage Gap
This wage gap contributes to economic disparities among the LGBTQ population. For example, LGBTQ adults are more likely to experience food insecurity, poverty and economic instability. Lower wages underlie these disparities.
“Fewer dollars coming in, and thus fewer dollars available to spend on resources, can have a much wider impact than simple economics,” Goldberg said. “We can clearly see how the impact of [the] wage gap ripples out to all aspects of the lives, health and well-being of LGBTQ+ adults.”
Another analysis by the HRC Foundation found that nearly 20 percent of LGBTQ+ workers are employed in service industries such as food service or retail. These are among the lowest paid industries and the least likely to provide health insurance benefits.
“Lower wages may also reflect positions that lack benefits, which can further exacerbate health care access barriers,” Goldberg said. “LGBTQ+ adults are also more likely to report forgoing or delaying needed medical care due to costs, which can put them at risk for undertreatment of both acute and chronic health conditions.”
Jean-Marie Navetta, director of learning and inclusion at the LGBTQ awareness organization PFLAG, said wage disparities also make it difficult to save money, jeopardizing safety nets, retirement funds and generational wealth.
“[Wage gap] disparities mean peoples’ lives are fundamentally different in a much more difficult way,” Navetta said. “A significant portion of the population not receiving equal pay for equal work is one of the most un-American ideas possible.”
How Companies Can Curb This Trend
Navetta believes businesses should implement policies that make it easier for employees and business leaders to identify existing wage gaps. This includes transparent policies on pay as well as annual assessments of pay data disaggregated by sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. Employers can leverage this information to identify and resolve wage gaps.
“We must recognize that when pay is equal, we all benefit,” she said. “People perform better, and the long-term outcomes are better.”
Nearly half of LGBTQ workers reported experiencing unfair treatment in their careers, according to a 2021 report by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy. Workplace discrimination or harassment can affect their financial well-being, Goldberg said.
Employee benefits have also been an issue among LGTBQ workers. A 2018 study by the HRC Foundation showed that less than half of LGBTQ respondents were in jobs that covered parental leave for new parents of all genders or jobs that offered it equally for birth parents and those who adopt or foster a child.
“Employers and HR professionals must ensure that benefits packages are inclusive of both legal spouses and domestic partners, as well as the many different ways a family can parent, in order to ensure that LGBTQ+ families have equal access to financial benefits available to cisgender and heterosexual families,” Goldberg added.
Navetta noted how studies assessing LGBTQ lives enable business leaders, HR professionals and others to better understand the disparities and challenges this population faces.
“The experiences of people within [the LGBTQ] community are vastly different, and the only way to have an informed conversation about that is through research,” Navetta said. “We can all be part of the solution. It takes all of us.”